The NFL Changed Forever In 2011

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There’ve been many points where football changed completely, from the birth of the NFL to its merger with the AFL and more, but here’s a recent one.

With the offseason approaching we must shift from analyzing how good teams are now to analyzing how they can best maximize their chances to be good in the future. Not just in the upcoming season, but in the next several years. As with everything we look to history as a guide, but when it comes to the NFL there is a very important trap to avoid.

What happened before 2011 is almost entirely useless to telling us what we should do today.

Before 2011 rookies were paid like veterans. The most famous example was Sam Bradford, who was drafted in 2010 and by the 3rd year of his rookie deal was paid more than every quarterback not named Peyton Manning. This meant draft picks (at least ones at the top of the 1st round) weren’t all that valuable compared to a free agent. Hitting on a draft pick wasn’t any better than simply landing a big name free agent.

In this environment an NFL team seeking an advantage would simply try and acquire the best players. This is obvious. You build the best team by acquiring the best players.

But after 2011 that simple picture was changed forever.

With the new CBA (which with the newer CBA makes it the old CBA) contracts for draft picks were strictly defined, and importantly they were strictly defined to be much lower than contracts for starter-quality veterans. While Bradford was one of the most expensive quarterbacks in the NFL in his 3rd year, Mahomes was paid almost the same his 3rd year as the Chiefs’ backup Chad Henne, and recent 1st round draft pick Dwayne Haskins was the 4th highest paid quarterback in Washington.

The fact that your high draft picks (which are very likely to be a quality player) are no longer paid like free agents means that simply acquiring the best players is no longer enough. A team who tries to build around expensive veterans will be forced by the cap to surround those veterans with cheap contracts, and if they don’t do it with the now-cheap draft picks it means signing cheap (and not very good) veteran free agents. That team will inevitably lose to the team that stockpiled draft picks, and with those players being so cheap they have plenty of cap to surround them with all the talent they like.

Before 2011 it didn’t matter all that much if you missed on draft picks. After 2011 hitting on draft picks is absolutely critical.

Of course, in the NFL this logic gets amplified when it comes to the quarterback position. As the most important position in team sports they naturally get the big contracts (although even then not as big as they should be if the NFL was 100% efficient). Before 2011 you could get away with paying a mediocre (or worse) quarterback like Eli Manning, Brad Johnson, or John Elway big money and still be a real Super Bowl contender. But after 2011 it is simply too big of a disadvantage to overcome without a ton of luck.

When you sign somebody like Kirk Cousins to a big contract how are you supposed to compete with a team that has a good (not even necessarily elite) quarterback that’s paying them $20 million less? Before 2011 you could justify it as him being the best quarterback available (which was true when the Vikings acquired him), but after 2011 there are simply too many other teams with similar (or better) quarterbacks on cheap rookie deals that you can’t compete.

It also brings us to the final point, that comparing quarterback careers is no long valid. Before 2011, a quarterback would typically increase his chances of winning Super Bowls as his career progressed and as he learned the game. But after 2011 those quarterbacks have the easiest time winning when they’re young and not getting paid very much. Consider players like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson who won Super Bowls either before 2011 or on cheap rookie deals, but who haven’t even returned since. The one veteran who breaks the rule, Tom Brady, actually proves it, as he consistently took less than what he was worth in order to compete.

In the post-2011 world draft picks are king.

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03/01/2021 3:32 pm

great analysis and thank you finally saying it (as a few others have also said lately) … PURE LUCK is involved in a whole lot off “return to the super bowl” regardless of what qb or team … that includes kc and mahomes as much as it does for wilson and the seachickens or pretty much any other team, even with “elite qb” and a playoff-ready team

it’s a long way to the top if ya wanna rock n roll …

03/01/2021 12:04 pm

JJ Watt is signing a 2 year, $31 million deal ($23 million guaranteed) with the Arizona Cardinals

Severely Concussed
Reply to  kcfreak725
03/01/2021 12:15 pm

He obviously doesn’t place winning a championship very high on his priorities.

Reply to  Severely Concussed
03/01/2021 12:20 pm

The Cardinals are better than they were, for sure, but if JJ Watt was wanting a ring now…Zona was probably not the best choice. But I’d rather he end up there than on one of the AFC playoff teams.

Last edited 3 years ago by kcfreak725
Reply to  Severely Concussed
03/01/2021 1:28 pm

How shitty do Texans fans feel? Our best player of all time left to go to ….. The Cardinals!?!?

Reply to  DenverDonkeyHater
03/01/2021 1:44 pm

The same team that got Hopkins. So their two best of all time.

Reply to  probablyamistake
03/01/2021 1:48 pm

At least they got… checks google… david johnson for hopkins

Reply to  kcfreak725
03/01/2021 2:02 pm

It’s WAS about the $$$$ for watt – Yawn

I’m waiting for VON MILLER to be released by Broncos.
IF….he does – Von loves Patrick & Chiefs

Also, Von wears 58 in honor of Derrick Thomas

Reply to  gonzangkc11
03/01/2021 2:04 pm

I’d take Von

Reply to  kcfreak725
03/01/2021 3:33 pm

saw that … also AS11, the comeback kid, is being released by WTF … I mean WFT

03/01/2021 11:32 am

It’ll never happen since the majority of CBA voters on the player side are the JAGs rather than stars, but I’d be interested in what would happen if each team could exempt a player from the salary cap. Obviously the cap would have to end up being a bit lower overall, but what is a Patrick Mahomes going to get paid if his salary didn’t have to fit under the cap?

03/01/2021 11:18 am

Von Fucking Miller. Picked 3rd the first year of the new (now old) cba. Got paid after winning the super bowl with 5head. Donkeys have sucked since.

03/01/2021 11:10 am

Actually, missing on a high draft pick prior to 2011 was a really big deal. With the huge signing bonuses those guys got, teams were stuck with busts for much longer.

Reply to  stjoechief
03/01/2021 11:23 am

Especially those top 10 picks. It was almost a bad thing to have a top 10 pick before 2011.

Severely Concussed
Reply to  DenverDonkeyHater
03/01/2021 12:01 pm

That led to a problem when we had to extend Eric Berry. The NFL rate for a top tier safety was less than his rookie contract. He didn’t want to take a pay cut so we had to franchise tag him.

Other players I remember us drafting in the top ten were Ryan Sims and Tyson Jackson. A lot of money for very little reward.

Reply to  Severely Concussed
03/01/2021 12:49 pm

Throw Glenn Dorsey in there too

Severely Concussed
03/01/2021 11:06 am

I think not giving big money to players not worth a big contract is even more important than hitting on draft picks.

If you are hamstrung by an underperforming player on a large contract, you have no option but to skimp on another position. That bad contract affects two positions in a negative way.

If you miss on a draft pick, you can get out of it rather quickly without much consequence. That is the greatest thing about the 2011 CBA.

03/01/2021 10:38 am

Which rather makes me think that, if the pandemic hadn’t intervened and stalled the salary cap seemingly never ending increase, Pat’s contract should have been a fairly constant 20% (ish) of the cap over the years. I’d say that was a pretty fair deal for a generational talent at the most important position on the team. Kudos to Pat and Veach for reaching a mutually advantageous agreement.

Not only is it similar in scope to Brady’s take he’s a better player and a lot less of a total asshole.

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